Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hell on Wheels

"Monday, hell begins." With those three words, CTA Chairwoman Carole Brown probably uttered the most accurate statement to date about the ongoing Brown Line renovations.

Almost three years of unprecedented service reductions will start as scheduled Monday on the CTA's busiest rail corridor in order to install elevators and expand platforms at the Belmont and Fullerton stations.

The board voted 6-0 to accept the recommendation of transit agency president Frank Kruesi to implement a 25 percent reduction in track capacity on the North Side corridor served by the Red, Brown and Purple/Evanston Express Lines.

Here's a paragraph that I had to read twice because I was sure that I misread it the first time:

But Brown and board member Nicholas Zagotta said they based their yes votes solely on Kruesi's assurances that the CTA has done all it can to prepare and to minimize disruptions for the 185,000 people who use the three rail lines, as well as for thousands of transit users on other rail lines and bus routes who will feel the crunch due to increased ridership.

Brown and Zagotta may have wanted to chat with legislators who represent areas along the Brown Line about their experiences in relying on the assurances that we got in the months leading up to the Brown Line renovation project. (Self-edited in the interest of not wanting to start a major confrontation.) Without getting into it, the vote may have turned out a little differently. Although in reality, it probably wouldn't have.

Before panic sets in, you should know that the CTA has a contingency plan:

CTA officials insisted riders can help operations go more smoothly by staying off northbound trains leaving downtown between roughly 4:45 and 6 p.m., when the number of passengers is expected to exceed capacity. The second busiest period is expected to be from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. for southbound travel, officials said.
So if you're following along here, the contingency plan to help riders get between work and home is...don't take the trains during rush hour. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.

Riders may have then thought that they were getting some sort of reprieve upon learning that service will be increased on seven CTA bus routes during the morning and evening rush hours... that is until they find out that forty-two bus routes serve the area affected by the Brown Line project.

So if you're going to rely on one of the other thirty-five bus routes to deal with the disruption, you better stock up on deodorant because you're going to be in some close quarters.

Past experience tells me that the CTA has long-known what their plans were going to entail; the same way that they knew that there were going to be station closures while telling everybody else the exact opposite.

Part of the audit recently released by Auditor General William Holland in response to a House Resolution that I passed last session states that the CTA needs to improve communication and coordination with the public and elected officials. Looks like they didn't get the memo.


At March 31, 2007 at 1:00 PM, Anonymous Railing against the CTA said...

I have to rely on the CTA every day, and have to tell you that it stinks. Service is irregular, staff is rude, the whole Brown Line rehab has been a comedy of errors.

Thank you Rep. Fritchey for calling them out on this issue.

At March 31, 2007 at 1:11 PM, Anonymous train wreck said...

I've been a number of the Brown Line committee meetings, and don't remember hearing anything about this third-rail system until very recently. Were elected officials briefed?, because it came as a surprise to the community groups upon whom the CTA was relying to get their message out.

At March 31, 2007 at 1:25 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

As usual, we were apprised of this very late in the game, at which point I am pretty certain that the decisions had already been made.

The CTA is in an admittedly difficult situation, and as the Dan Ryan project shows, with any large-scale project, there are bound to be inconveniences.

But they are taking a bad situation and making it worse for themselves. The past couple of years have included a series of material omissions and misrepresentations being made to public officials and the public.

And to quote Mayes Gilliam, "That ain't right!"

At March 31, 2007 at 7:06 PM, Blogger Randall Sherman said...

Rep. Fritchey, clearly it is time for the General Assembly to draft legislation to totally revamp public transportation in the Chicago area. The CTA administration, from President Kruesi and the Board on down, is completely unresponsive to the needs of the public. The CTA should be abolished and replaced with another agency, one that doesn't take its marching orders from a Mayor that no idea what riding the CTA is like.


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